Friday, December 05, 2008

Private Eye Open Thread

There are (were? - when you read this, it should be past tense[1]) four motives behind this post.

1. To show solidarity with Dave Osler (thanks to Chicken Yoghurt).

2. Because, going by the comments to the last post, some of you have things to say about the Eye, so here's a post just for you.

3. To quote Dave:

As recently as last year, Ms Kaschke put herself forward for the Labour nomination for the winnable seat of Bethnal Green & Bow. After receiving just one vote, she defected to the Respect party of George Galloway, quickly left to join one of Britain's multiple Communist Parties, adhered again to Labour and then switched to the Tories; she now overtly advocates political positions that place her on the hard right of the legitimate Conservative spectrum. Rarely can ideological peregrinations have been so comprehensive in such a short space of time.

On topic for this site, surely.

4. To quote Dave again:

In addition to her action against me, I know for sure that Ms Kaschke is also suing Labourhome founder Alex Hilton, Labour-supporting blogger John Grey,and leading German news magazine Der Spiegel. She has settled out of court with Private Eye, and I also reliably understand that she earlier this year lost a substantial sum in costs in a failed action against the Labour Party. In addition, she is seeking judicial review against a decision on her right to legal aid made by the Legal Services Commission.

Being a journalist, I have had sufficient professional training to put forward a defence of justification and/or fair comment, and I furthermore contend that the doctrine of 'bane and antidote' applies, in that her side of the story was properly set out.

This is sort of 2 again, but what's up with the 'Eye' here? Dave has "sufficient professional training to put forward a defence of justification and/or fair comment" but the Eye (staffed with journalists like Nick Cohen[2], who used to be Mr Civil Liberties and should really be clued up here) caves in.

[1] I've read my Hegel you know.

[2] Who we're not watching, BTW


Blogger StuartA said...

I've said the same basic thing before, but I can't resist an open thread on this hobby horse.

To me, Private Eye has always promised far more than it delivered. I accept that reproducing rumours is bound to lead to factual inaccuracy. What I find strange is that a publication that apparently pretends to be outside the constraints of the rest of the media actually seems less likely to carry uncommon views than the Guardian. I also can't remember the last time I laughed at any of its spoof media stuff (the cartoons are better).

I read it and picture a collection of old men who were once funny (perhaps — it seems impossible now to believe that of, say, Christopher Booker), relaxing into respectability unaware of quite how repetitive and Telegraphesque their publication now is. Seriously, another Rocky Horror order of service? Another King James language rendering of current affairs?

I connect this attitude in some vague way with their carrying Cohen's feeble hit pieces. I can imagine it might seem daring and controversial to push decentism, but only to a collection of people so thoroughly absorbed into the media establishment that they think printing decades old jokes about tabloid proprietors is edgy.

People have said the publication pushes no particular political point of view, but I'm not sure I agree. As noted, Cohen's stuff is pure decentism. But elsewhere there is a less explicit but identifiable fogeyish pro-royal, pro-monarchy, pro-religion, ultimately pro-status quo attitude. Their obsession with Desmond's porn seems positively Mary Whitehouse.

What I'd like to know is whether this was always so, because nowadays even Richard Ingrams seems to be a more interesting writer than anybody in Private Eye. I've never read his magazine, but I'm guessing Oldie readers move on to Private Eye when they're looking for something a little more sedate.

12/06/2008 03:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't mind the 'old duffers repeating the same material' stuff really - I've never found all the media parodies in the post-leters page bit particularly funny.

I used to actively look forward to getting the Eye, but it does seem to have markedly deteriorated in quality recently. The books page - once a tonic to the endless pats on each others' backs you see in the broadsheet reviews - has now become an endless succession of rants against celeb biography, which is not only fish in a barrel stuff, it's boring. And what's more, just like all the other columns, the book pages have to read like the opinions of a true insider, who knows what he or she is talking about, and at times that veneer slips quite embarrassingly - to use one example from a while back, the reviewer claimed that in 'Elizabeth Costello', J. M. Coetzee was adopting the voice of a woman because he'd got bored of always writing in a man's voice - ignoring the fact that Coetzee had already written at least two novels with first-person female narrators. But anyway...

I can imagine it might seem daring and controversial to push decentism

What the Eye has always been very good at is giving its readers the impression of being privy to special, esoteric information. It's something Popbitch and Holy Moly now do in the celeb world and for peopel who like it, that's what Harry's Place does. The problem with the Eye in particular is that most of the time, the writers don't get enough space to fully explain stories which are often very difficult to understand and explain. The reader who trusts the eye (and why not, given the attention to detail in things like the Lockerbie and PFI stuff they've run) might well think that this is the definitive word on the matter. But as the Johann Hari/Nick Cohen episode shows, the Eye's line on some things is distressingly partisan. I actually found this out before the shameful parroting of Nick's line on Hari, in Nooks and Corners, where a case I know a lot about was featured and reproduced more or less verbatim an email from a Labour MP who had a vested interest in the project.

I'll still get it, since i like the books column when it's done well and I think the stuff on the railways and councils (when it doesn't descend to repeating prior Eye 'victories') in particular are very good. But in general they're getting lazier and lazier, and the increasing prominence of Nick Cohen's copy and pastes from Harry's Place is symptomatic of that.

12/06/2008 09:41:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

It would be possible to construct a theory that Hislop was both

(a) less directly involved than he once was and

(b) a touch complacent

with the result that

(1) the "ha-ha-ha" parts of the magazine have got tired without realising it

(2) Francis Wheen probably plays quite a large role in compiling the "serious" stuff.

It's quite likely Hislop who's keen to mention that Desmond is a pornographer every iussue, though, I'd guess.

The thing is, the Eye is conservative and always has been, or at least since Booker et al reacted to the Sixties by moving rapidly to the Right. So a lot of it does come from a Telegraph-world in which more or less everything is a fraud or a bad joke played on the hardworking and respectable. Most of the regular columns come from this direction and one or two tip over the edge into conspiracy-and-treachery territory (this would be true of Down on the Farm and Brussels Sprouts, neither of which possesses many scruples about the motives they attribute to their enemies).

Local councils are always philistines and crooks, newspapers are always losing circulation and morale in their offices is always at rock bottom - and so on. You can flick through this stuff at great speed every issue.

I suspect that years of New Labour have hardened the Torygraph tendency in the Eye - it was better under the Tories and it may well pick up again when Cameron gets in, because there'll be more political thievery - the targets will be bigger and more venal. That is, provided that they don't become partisan - the Eye really has always been prepared to go after people regardless of their politics. The startling thing about the Letter From Tblisi was that it didn't do that, it was an exercise in apologetics, in taking sides, and if the Eye (for instance) were to start soft-pedalling on Boris Johnson because it doesn't like some of the people who criticise him, then it probably won't harm its circulation much but it will hurt its capacity as a magazine.

But it's still a Good Thing as far as I'm concerned, and I maintain my subscription.

12/06/2008 09:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Boris thing is a worry in the Eye. it was more or less opnely partisan in its coverage of the mayoral elections, and there are a lot of things going on in his administration which would have had a lot more time devoted to them if Ken had been involved.

But i'm broadly with you ejh. I still subsribe and I will continue to do so unless Ratbiter is given two pages to himself every fortnight.

12/06/2008 11:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't find at all funny (or enlightening) the portrayal in the Eye of Gordon Brown as a kind of Chairman Mao. It's a very stale stereotype that says nothing new, and seems to have undertones of the constant references to North Korea in the writings of Boris Johnson.

I did enjoy (usually) the portrayal of Blair as the Vicar of St Albion. It captured very well the surface piety of Blair that hid the usual lying and bullying of politics.

12/08/2008 12:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh for the grand old days of the Secret Diary of John Major...

I still read it for In The Back, the books review is often good (tho' I agree, lazy of late) and at its best the TV review can be brilliant.

OTOH, there does seem to be a decline lately, and it can't just be a political thing.

I think to some extent the Eye's USP - inside stories that the rest of the press wouldn't carry - has been scooped by the bloggers. I find Guido more or less unreadable, but I can see that what he does is direct competition for the Eye. There was a smaller-scale parallel of this on the left when Respect bust open - Socialist Unity got all the scoops while the Weekly Worker, the usual source for left gossip, was found sleeping on the job.

These days I prefer the Phoenix, the Irish equivalent, but it's gone in a rather different direction, with usually three or four quite serious analytical articles per issue. It gives you some food for thought, something the Eye rarely does nowadays.

I'm not mad either about the spoof news items, but at least they're funnier than the ones on Greater Surbiton. I have a recurring nightmare involving Marko joining the Eye and filling every issue with sideswipes at the perfidious Greeks...

But yeah, Nick. Aren't they editing him at all? And if you're willing to run cut and paste jobs from HP, why not get David T to write them? Those Ratbiter columns getting destroyed on the letters page every fortnight is starting to look more than a little embarrassing.

12/08/2008 12:28:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

why not get David T to write them?

Beware of getting what you ask for.

Personally I rather like the Gordon Brown as Mao stuff - it's rather well done and as with Dave Spart you get the impression that whoever does it is reasonably familiar with the particular language used.

12/08/2008 12:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From a professional perspective, the In The City column is actually written by somebody who understands the basics of accountancy and corporate taxation. Unlike, say, the Guardian which fairly embarrasingly demonstrated the adage about a little knowledge re: Tesco earlier this year. That said, the guy who writes what used to be Footnotes doesn't get the same pass - all the stuff about the CDC, for example - I still can't tell if he's making any sense or not. (Whether he's talking about the fund or the fund management entity is never clear, for example, and neither is it clear whether it's a partnership or not - if it is, then a very low tax charge in the accounts is entirely what you'd expect, as the tax is generally the partners' responsibility, not the partnerships.)

I still read PE, and have done for donkey's years, but with ever more skipping over the 'funny' bits. Their refusal to admit that they were barking up the wrong tree re: MMR still vaguely annoys.

12/08/2008 02:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those Ratbiter columns getting destroyed on the letters page every fortnight is starting to look more than a little embarrassing.

they've become more frequent as the letters destroying them have increased in volume. I can't work out the logic behind that correlation but it's definitely true...

I agree re: In the City, and what's best is that it mkakes sense to a City outsider such as myself. They've also been miles ahead of the game on football finances too. and the TV is usually good. I'm becoming less and less impressed ith 'ad nauseam' though - like a lot of other columns it seems to be stuck in a 'recycling old stories about people i dislike' loop.

12/08/2008 05:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this may just be sentimental of me, but private eye has generally worked best when the ed is a young(ish) fogey with an charming clubbable ultra-lefty as mentor: where hislop had foot, ingrams* had claud cockburn (alex's and patrick's dad)** -- cockburn's 'the week' was the model, not of the very earliest eye (which was more like a cheeky kids' comic) but certainly of the 70s eye

*ingrams also had foot of course, but they were at school together so it was hardly the same thing
**and of course (n his guise as as frank pitcairn) orwell's civil-war bugbear

12/08/2008 06:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"of course" x 45634 bah

spookily the word verification is "lonwo"

12/08/2008 06:36:00 PM  
Blogger StuartA said...

I can see something in the idea that a contrasting left viewpoint was the key difference in the past. But I wonder if Hislop's large amount of other media work, and his vast fees from HIGNFY, conspired with the absence of Foot to insulate him from reality.

Whatever the specifics, I blame him for hanging on too long. I can't see how the magazine can recover until somebody younger, with something more to prove, takes over. I'm sure there are strong counter-examples, but well-rewarded conservative old men don't come to mind when I think of acid satirists.

12/08/2008 07:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re the CDC thing, I actually think it's an example of what the Eye does well - it picks up a story the MSM is not giving any space to and plugs away at it over time. The tax issue as I understand it is not so much that CDC itself (or the partners) is not paying tax, rather that the ventures it invests in are set up via offshore companies so they don't pay tax in the countries concerned, depriving the exchequers of poor countries of revenue. I have to confess to not being qualified to judge if this is a fair argument but apart from this there are also issues around the nature of the projects it is investing in, ie into shopping centres and the like and out of less lucrative agricultural projects. Also there is the matter of the scandalous way it was privatised.

12/08/2008 11:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Top-of-my-head reations to the latest Eye:

Ratbiter/Nick on the chiropractors suing Simon Singh. Mumbo-jumbo versus science, check; Britain's oppressive libel laws, check.

On the opposite page, some bloke from the Green Party getting stuck into the last Ratbiter with vim.

Remote Controller is back on the TV review, and most welcome too.

Book review: the Paul O'Grady memoirs. Also, a roundup of Christmas cookbooks. This includes the slightly odd complaint that Nigella's festive offering doesn't invest the winter festival with any Christian significance. Quick, somebody, alert David Hirsh!

12/10/2008 03:23:00 PM  

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